World famous survival expert Ray Mears took centre stage as students from Premiership Rugby’s HITZ programme were handed a masterclass in wilderness craft.
Land Rover ambassador Mears took the students from Bath Rugby, Exeter Chiefs, Harlequins, London Irish and Saracens to a two-day course on the East Sussex downs which tested attributes learnt on the HITZ programme, taking many of the teenagers into environments they had never experienced before.
"We have generations of young adults who have spent most of their childhood playing imaginary games on computers and they haven’t touched nature in the same way – for whatever reason. I don’t attribute blame, it is just circumstances and a new lifestyle," said television star Mears.
"I am old school though, we do everything for real, it is good for the HITZ young people to see what can be done, to select a piece of wood, to see that you can make fire, and that it’s all real.
"It’s the easiest thing in the world to go outside and make your own adventures.
"We have shown them what to do here but we hope that they will now go on and make their own discoveries for themselves and that is the magical bit.
"I was really impressed with the HITZ Programme. The youngsters performed far better than I could have imagined and the HITZ Officers were exceptional – they are the unsung heroes of this project."
Mears was joined on the trip by 15 youngsters from the HITZ programme including Brixton teenager Arafat Kajjumdi, who is a member of the Harlequins’ HITZ programme designed to transform the lives of disillusioned teens who are not in education, employment or training, through the power of sport.
He joined up with programme members from four other Aviva Premiership Rugby sides for the crash course in shelter building, making fire and plant identification and said that the day would live long in his memory.
"The fact HITZ can offer me these experiences is really fantastic – I wish everyone would have the same opportunities because it is really helpful and has changed my life," said Kajjumdi.
"HITZ was recommended to me by a friend. I didn’t have any qualifications so I joined to get some.
"I have been a part of HITZ for nearly a year and my life has really changed for the better.
"I’ve got some coaching qualifications now and it has been really helpful. This September I will be looking to go and study construction at college.
"I had never been out in the forest so it is my first time. I loved the experience and it was great to see Ray making the fire."
HITZ is a Premiership Rugby programme run by each of the 12 teams in their local communities, using rugby and other sports to bring disaffected 16 to 19-year-olds back into education and give them a chance in life.
Land Rover are one of four national HITZ partners and laid on the event with their ambassador Mears, who showed the teens how to make fire by rubbing wood together, as well as constructing an overnight shelter and learning what can and cannot be used in the woods.
Helen Clayton, of Premiership Rugby, is the HITZ project manager and was on hand to guide the participants through their woodland adventure and to help them to implement the qualities of teamwork, resilience and self-confidence already developed on the programme.
"When Ray was talking, the HITZ participants were so engaged because it was something they had never seen, never done before," said Clayton.
"Most of them probably don’t have the opportunity to walk through the woods, or play like we did, so it is a real eye opener and it shows them that there is so much more out there to be aware of.
"These are the opportunities that the HITZ national partners Barclays, Comic Relief, Land Rover and Wooden Spoon give to these young people to develop skills that are important for life in general."
Jonathan Garrett, corporate and social responsibility director at Jaguar Land Rover, said the aim of the event, and their support of the HITZ programme as a whole, is to enable a positive change in the lives of young people.
"You hear about stories in other industries where people are given a chance and away they go, that is what we are hoping this project will do too," said Garrett.
"This is not just about a partnership, adding money in, it is about using the resources we have as Jaguar Land Rover, such as having Ray Mears at a wonderful event like this.
"The values of survival and pushing yourself, which Ray talked about to the participants, is something that really benefits them and helps them to develop."
Land Rover is a partner of HITZ, the sport for change programme and with the help of Land Rover ambassador and explorer Ray Mears, was providing HITZ participants with a unique outdoor experience as reward for their progress on the HITZ programme (hitzrugby.com). @LandRoverRugby #WeDealInReal